TRAVEL, TRAVEL… AND MORE TRAVEL
My journey begins at 7am when a car whisks me away to the airport. Although my first flight is a domestic leg, I still am required to check in at least three hours before my 11:18am departure. Knowing it will be quite some time before I am served a meal on a plane (on my Philly to London leg), I rise early enough to make and eat a hearty breakfast and snuggle with my son. I haven’t been away from my family for this long in more than 7 years, so I want to stock up on hugs!
The one drawback to having a car service take you to the airport rather than friends or family is that hired cars must drop you off on the commercial level – where there is no curbside check in services and no porters. I manage to stack my 50-lb duffle bag on top of my 50-lb suitcase, wriggle my way into my 20-lb backpack and push my 35-lb carry-on in front of me. The adventure is on!
This is my first trip to Kenya in 10 years where I am flying straight through, rather than flying a round trip to London and then a London/Kenya round trip. Sweeter words never reached my ears than the moment the baggage clerk hands me my claim checks and says, “your bags are checked through to your final destination.” WHAT????
My delight is measurable. There’s no longer any need to collect bags when you arrive overseas with a connecting flight, bringing them through customs at your first port of entry, only to be re-checked to your final destination. One of the many perks of the new security procedures. Airports apparently no longer want baggage to come into the airport if the passenger is only passing through. I am beyond grateful since my layover in London will be less than 4 hours and the idea of wrangling all these bags after 19 hours of travel to London is a bit daunting.
I while away my remaining wait time by examining every possible universal adapter in the Denver airport until I find a Swiss Army one that had a USB port as well as the various plug options. I know it will really come in handy – if I’m ever able to open the plastic casing. Note for fellow travelers: the time to purchase a universal phone adapter in adult proof plastic is NOT when you’re unable to have any sharp objects with you! (I do finally find the handy perforated part at the bottom of the package, that easily opens the packaging – but not until I’ve reached Nairobi!)
I spend most of the Denver-Philadelphia flight reading. My goal is to stay awake until I have dinner on my London flight, sleep through that flight, then stay awake on the London/Nairobi leg so my next “nap” happens when all Kenyans will be sleeping, including me. Thus eliminating jet lag. The first leg of my trip goes exactly as planned. Unless you count the unexpected email that loads onto my phone just before we began backing away from the gate…
Moments before wheels up for London the email kindly informs me that my Nairobi to London return flight for September 10 has been canceled. Any wonder I don’t sleep a wink on the flight from Philly to London? Here I am, in the middle of a flight to Africa and my ride home has bailed on me! By the time my plane lands, though, I have worked out various scenarios to rearrange my schedule in Africa so I can arrive in London a day earlier, stay the night in London and catch the regular London-Denver non-stop home, on which I was already booked. Armed with this brilliant solution. I pat myself on the back!
As we taxied to the Heathrow gate, British Airways sends me a new message. My London-Denver flight has ALSO been canceled. What in the world is going on? I spend the last bit of juice in my phone online to find out what’s up. Turns out the British Airways pilots have announced their new strike dates and they are canceling flights on and around those dates as a precautionary measure. My scheduled departure from Nairobi isn’t going to happen – and neither is getting out a day earlier. In fact, the only options according to their website appear to be like flights that leave Nairobi on the 7th, or the 12th.
Hot, tired and dirty, I make my way off the plane with a concrete plan of action.
Step 1: Get off the plane, wend my way to the transfer point for connecting flights and take the shuttle transfer over to Terminal 3 where salvation awaits.
Step 2: Make a beeline through Terminal 3 security and head to Lounge F, where I present my dusty bedraggled self at the pristine lounge reception desk and request a shower slot. If you’ve never taken a shower at the Heathrow airport, and you’re ever passing through and are fortunate enough to be on a flight that departs or arrives at Terminal 3, you are beyond blessed. Pack a full extra change of clothes in your carry on and you’ll be keeping me in your prayers forever.
For the “worth every penny and then some” price of 15 Euro, a luxury shower room is awaiting you. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, towels, hair dryer, resting bench, sink, toilet and shower are the standard accommodations for 30 minutes. Clean and clear-headed once more, I rearrange my carry-on and my backpack – and locate my USB phone charger cord. While I still can’t get the universal adapter out of its plastic jail, at least I have a way to recharge my phone while at Heathrow, thanks to all the USB charging stations. Now, I am ready to have a conversation with someone in a position to help me figure out my return flights!
Step 3: Backtrack all the way back to the security area and visit with an amazing British Airways customer service representative named Natalie who is delighted to help me. She says she can put me on the next day flights (departing Nairobi on September 11, and then on the September 12 daily non-stop flight from London back home to Denver). Mission accomplished, it is time for my pilgrimage to EAT.
Step 4: I’m not glorifying “eating” by saying I am making a pilgrimage to have a morning meal before boarding my plane. I mean I am truly making a pilgrimage to the establishment named EAT. They brew the most wonderful Americana coffee where they top it with an amazing amount of real whipped cream (I’m the only one who ever asks for this and apparently they find this fascinating.) Plus homemade classic porridge with bananas and honey. Satisfying both nutritionally and on the comfort food scale. I eat, charge my phone, and ferret a handi-wipe from my backpack to clean up the sticky honey mess I have made on my hands, my seat, my suitcase (don’t ask).
When the time comes to board my flight to Nairobi, I take my seat and am asleep shortly after takeoff. I sleep through the special meal service (they kindly bring it to me when I awake), and ALMOST sleep through the ice cream bar service! Luckily I stir as the flight attendant is passing by and I am able to stage whisper loud enough to turn her head! I sleep most of the flight and am pleased with myself for selecting a seat closer to the front of the plane so I can disembark quickly, get into the line for my visa and out into baggage claim. I faintly hear the tinkle of foreshadowing laughter.
At the Nairobi airport, you disembark down the front stairs onto the tarmac, then load yourself onto a shuttle bus which takes you to the arrivals terminal. I learned last time that stopping to use a rest room at this point will put me at the back of a very long line. So I decide to get through the immigration checkpoint first. When I visited Kenya in February, they had just rolled out a new e-visa service, and not many people knew about it, so that line was incredibly short. This time, the e-visa line is the longest line. Luckily for me, I had completely forgotten that purchasing my visa in advance was even an option. I wind up 10th in line for getting my visa in-person. My customs officer appreciates me answering her questions in Swahili. When I ask if there is a bathroom in the baggage claim area she replied there isn’t – but she will be glad to hold my passport for me so I can go to the back of the arrivals area and use the restroom there, then come right back up to her desk to retrieve my passport. The genuine friendliness of Kenyans always warms my heart.
Once I’m more comfortable, I proceed to baggage claim – which is literally just beyond the door of the immigration area. I easily spot my giant pink suitcase and carefully search the baggage carousel and bags that had already been offloaded. My duffle bag is nowhere in sight. I tap a porter who grabs me a baggage cart and we search together. Nothing. After 20 minutes, we head over to the lost luggage area to submit a claim. Just as we walk up to the claims kiosk, the baggage claim belt comes to life again with a lurch and and a chime. As it moves forward two lonely bags emerged – one of which is my beloved Timberline duffle bag! Hurrah!
I am now the very last person leaving baggage claim. A quick trip through customers and baggage inspection and I head out the door. When you leave the Nairobi airport, you turn to your left and wheel your cart down a long ramp. To your right, you can see everyone who is waiting for arriving passengers. Milling about are various porters and taxi drivers. I let my eyes rove looking for Pastor George and Naomi. There they are, sitting on the concrete base of a pillar directly opposite me. We spot each other simultaneously and began laughing and waving maniacally. This is going to be a magical, blessed trip, and we all know it!
After an excited few rounds of hugs George darts off to retrieve the car from the parking garage while Naomi and I catch up. Once in the car, it is a short trip across town to our accommodations at the Christian Student Leadership Centre, Ujumofumo, where George and I had stayed earlier this year. Their gardens are every bit as beautiful as they were in February. Once checked in, we retire to our rooms. Finally freeing my universal charger, I wait for the hot water heater to fully charge, unpack, set up my overnight clothes, and lay out tomorrow’s clothes. After a quick shower, I set my alarm and fall sound asleep.